UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Strategic liminality in the U.S.-China security dilemma : how conflicting philosophies of world order can establish points of productive cooperation Thomas, Morgan


During the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held in October of 2017, General Secretary Xi Jinping stated that “the military should make all-out efforts to become a world-class force by 2050 and to strive for the realization of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” The nature of what Xi means by such a rejuvenation is up for debate and will be the question driving this analysis. The main objective of this thesis is to home in on the ideational influences that Xi Jinping factors into his strategic calculus as they derive meaning from conceptions of world order. The first chapter of this thesis examines a few of the narratives and philosophical discourses that shape and influence both Chinese and American understandings of world order. I have analyzed Xi Jinping’s speeches through an interpretative discourse analysis to parse out points of continuity and discontinuity in Chinese military strategy as it stems from tradition. As Western strategists, more specifically American security policy makers, attempt to make sense of Xi Jinping’s intentions, I argued that concepts of world order play a growing role in Chinese strategic narrative, preferences and culture. Following the work of Alastair Johnston and Andrew Scobell, I contended that the PRC employs a bifurcated strategic culture in which Confucian benevolent virtue is partnered with a realpolitik strand, both of which stem from Chinese history and visions of a proper world order. This thesis lastly examined security policy implications and the proper steps the Pentagon should take given the strategic situation at hand. The extent to which U.S. security officials wish to gauge and understand China’s kinetic military action as it follows PRC grand strategic rhetoric matters greatly for future Sino-American relations. For strategic diplomatic negotiations to occur over highly contested flash-points in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, the US needs to recalibrate its understanding of Chinese strategic culture and intentions as they are influenced by historical and philosophical assessments.

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